News & Politics

Think You’ve Seen Drones Overhead? You Could Be Right

The Washington area has no less than eight bases where drones can land.

Think you’ve seen any odd-looking planes overhead lately? Like the kind with no windows that help blow up terrorists? Maybe
you’re not imagining things.

There are eight bases in Maryland and Virginia that do
or could serve as takeoff and landing points for the military’s
aerial vehicles, according to a recent Pentagon report. But before
Washingtonians declare bragging rights, take note: That’s just 8
out of 110 in the United States.

In Maryland, bases with the potential to accommodate the
airborne robots, which are most famous for their secretive exploits
over Pakistan, are the Naval Air Station Patuxent River and the
nearby Webster Naval Outlying Field. In Virginia, there are
six bases. The two in the greater Washington metropolitan area
are Fort A.P. Hill, in Bowling Green, and Marine Corps Base
Quantico. Sorry, DC: You’re officially droneless. For now.

Right now, the unmanned planes have to fly within
restricted airspace. But the drones need more room to spread their
The military services want to start testing experimental
aircraft, and to do that, they need to be able to fly drones beyond
the restricted areas surrounding many bases now. Airspace
restrictions will soon be loosening for civilian craft, too, so
the skies are going to get crowded.

If you haven’t seen the drones in the air, you may
have seen pictures of one of them on the ground. The unmanned aerial
that crashed in a marsh near Salisbury, Maryland, this week
took off from Patuxent.

The local drone fleet runs the gamut of shapes and
sizes. Three bases are equipped to handle the RQ-7B Shadow, a smaller
that takes off with the aid of a catapult. And at Patuxent,
there’s the big RQ-4 Global Hawk, a surveillance workhorse. (That’s
what crashed in the marsh.)

And fear not: The dreaded MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9
Reaper, which wield death from above with targeted missiles, aren’t on
list. In fact, all the drones that would be flying in and out
of Virginia and Maryland bases are designed for surveillance
and reconnaissance.

The new drone report was first disclosed by Secrecy expert
Steven Aftergood had a useful writeup of the
potential and known drone bases across the country.